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A remembrance

Like beloved Buffett song, Ron Belyea has sailed on

My friend since preschool died June 18 while living in 'paradise'
By Ken Waltz | Jun 22, 2019
Courtesy of: Mark Lewis Ron Belyea near the top of Mount Washington on his 50th birthday.

Sarasota, Fla. — It all started with a child's-size, blue sailor suit and a bit of envy, followed by a 55-year friendship built on trust, respect and a good measure of "brotherly" competitiveness.

And with great sadness and a heavy heart, on Tuesday, June 18, I learned that a significant piece of my incredible 60-year journey on this planet was taken away when my friend — a person I had known since preschool — unexpectedly passed away in Florida, a place he always called "paradise."

Ronald James "Ron" Belyea Jr. was 59 years old, about a month shy of his 60th "journey around the sun," as he texted me on my "special" day a few days before his passing.

In this age of fast, efficient, electronic communication, it is strange to have the back-and-forth texts with Ron still on my phone. Just sitting there as a visual reminder of our last "live" communication. Our final human connection.

And thus ends a decades-long relationship that included a lot of laughs, plenty of tears and even a few verbal and physical altercations between two hard-nosed, ultra-competitive, headstrong boys at heart who were more brothers than friends.

Even though Ron was darker-skinned and a bit taller, people from the Pine Tree State to the Sunshine State confused us. He was "Ken" and I "Ron." When that happened — which was often — we just smiled and moved on and wondered how people could confuse such different people.

It was, of course, because, for most of five and a half decades, we spent more time together than apart. We were, to many, practically one an the same. Brothers from different mothers.

Many knew Ron from adulthood, from his years in the newspaper, advertising and media worlds, a no-nonsense guy who did not suffer fools gladly and was not afraid to speak his mind — and banter back and forth with anyone about any subject.

He was quick-witted — well, really, a smartass — and enjoyed a good conversation in person or on social media. He enjoyed saying things — sometimes outrageous things — just to get others to respond and engage in the back-and-forth he so craved.

I was privy to all phases — the chapters, if you will — of Ron's life. The good, bad and ugly, the experiences and trials and tribulations that made him, well, Ron.

Ron had a gigantic smile that could — and would — light up a room. He had a tremendous, often to-the-point, dry sense of humor. His hearty laugh was infectious. He was somewhat devilish, but always had kindness, respect and care deep in his heart. He would, as the saying goes, give you the shirt off his back.

He often was, I daresay, misunderstood. He was passionate and often intense about the things he enjoyed or that were important to him, and was especially protective of his family and friends.

However, deep down, he was the life of the party, any party, a social butterfly, if you will.

He loved Jimmy Buffett. He wanted to be Jimmy Buffett. Buffett and Belyea — kindred spirits. Ron identified with Buffett's music, his spirit, his carefree, fun-loving joy for life, his vibe and, of course, his island/reggae sound.

In our communications over the years, Ron often quoted Buffett songs to make a point. He bugged me for years to attend a concert with him, and I finally relented and had one of the most enjoyable days of my life. All because of Ron's persistence and ability to make any event, any day, a party.

A "best day ever" for Ron was sitting in a lawn chair on a favorite beach with his feet in the sand, in 85-degree weather, sun blazing as he sipped a Corona (with a lime, of course) and gazed out on the beautiful blue ocean — listening, of course, to Jimmy Buffett's music.

Although the warmth of Florida called him "home" for the final decade of his life, Ron, deep down, was a Maine boy. A Rockland son. Born and bred on Knott Street in the North End. Ron's father, Ronnie "Jim," was a mechanic at Miller's Garage on lower Rankin Street (how we enjoyed going to the garage just to smell the interior of the new cars and feel the rubber tire treads). Ron was proud of his dad, but resisted his attempts to get young "Jimmy" interested in cars. Ron had other interests, other plans for his life.

Ron was an extremely dedicated and diligent worker. A self-made man, who was a night manager at McDonald's as a 17-year-old high school student. He later became a manager at LaVerdiere's Drug Store and J.C. Penney, until he found his true calling in sales at local newspapers and later websites, and still later in Florida.

Ron had an amazing, soulful, trusting personality. That is why he succeeded in sales. He connected with people. He made his customers feel he could be trusted and had their best interests at heart. And he did. He later became an advertising director, publisher and vice president at media companies.

Growing up in Rockland, Ron and I spent much of our youth together, playing baseball and basketball, riding my motorized minibike, listening to music while sitting in his parents' car in the garage and, of course, chasing girls. While we often had trouble catching those ever-elusive females, our pursuit never stopped. We were just two mischievous young boys having the time of our lives growing up in a small American town.

We were classmates — Rockland District High School class of 1977 — and worked many jobs together, including at the Stinson Canning Co. for a summer job in high school, where we would, at the end of the day, be covered in fish guts and scales and have to walk home through the city streets; we always looked for ways to not be seen by friends — especially those hard-to-get girls.

In fact, the first example of Ron's future in sales was the day he and I fished for mackerel off 40 Fathoms canning factory and hoped to sell the fish we caught to the factory for candy money. Well, we did not catch any fish so, as we dejectedly walked off the docks with our fishing poles and tackle boxes in hand, we saw an open door and a conveyor belt with fish on it.

Ron, with his quick-thinking, 10-year-old wisdom and desire to make a quick buck, decided we should fill up our pail with fish off the factory's conveyor belt and walk around and sell the same fish back to the factory. And that is exactly what we did and Ron's scheme worked, as the factory — or at least the woman in the office who felt sorry for us —bought the fish and we ran all the way to the candy store with our "hard-earned" money.

That was Ron. Always thinking. Always scheming.

There was another time, at about age 12, when we raked blueberries for our summer jobs. Well, one hot, steamy day, we were in a field in West Rockport. We were tired and had no interest in working. Our rebellious nature took over. We looked at one another and knew we needed to "escape." it was a mutiny — in the blues.

So we, with a few others, dropped our rakes and started running down the dirt road to Route 17. We felt like we were slaves escaping from our masters. As we walked down Route 17 we decided to stop at Chickawaukie Pond for a cool dip. We were, of course, sure the blueberry field owner or police, with tracking dogs, would hunt us down. They probably never even realized we had left.

That was Ron. Always up for an adventure. Or a great escape.

We loved to play, talk about and watch sports. As a youngster, Ron was a fine tennis and basketball player, golfer and skier. Wow, could that boy shoot the ball from the corner and was a deadly free-throw shooter. As an adult golfer, few could hit a tee ball as far as he — if only he could have putted, he might have been a low handicapper.

Ron later went on to be a successful youth and high school hoops coach and one of the state's finest, highest-ranking high school basketball officials.

We loved playing adult softball together. He played catcher and I was at shortstop, the top two batters in the lineup. We enjoyed starting games with back-to-back hits and runners on first and third. It usually got our team fired up and put the opponents back on their toes. So much fun. So many fond memories.

We spent countless hours as children playing basketball at Danny "Duck" Lacrosse's or home run derby at John "Petro" Pietroski's house, with Charlie Brown, Paul "Skip" Greenier, Michael Molloy or Mark Lewis, or just hung out at North School (later MacDougal School) listening to a portable radio I bought one summer.

We loved spending days playing whiffle ball in the dirt parking lot of the former Van Baalen's building (where I now work), riding our bikes or walking to Engine Quarry off Old County Road to swim with "Boris" the eel — which I never actually saw, but heard was 20 feet long and ate children — or test our courage by jumping off 30- and 60-foot cliffs.

As teenagers we sat in his blue Plymouth Valiant (with push-button gears) in his parents' driveway listening to music on the radio. We often sat in his bedroom and listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival and schemed about how, after high school graduation, we would take a trip to the Pacific Northwest and hunt for — and find — the legendary Bigfoot.

We never made that trip — and never found Bigfoot — but we (especially Ron) always had big dreams, big ideas, thoughts about how to "make something of ourselves" after growing up in a much different, tougher Rockland with blue-collar parents.

Ron loved the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and especially his New York Giants, and delighted when they beat the New England Patriots in two Super Bowls — I mistakenly and stupidly told him that the Giants' almost beating the Patriots in the final regular-season game of 2006-07 was their "Super Bowl" — not knowing a few weeks later his Giants would stop the unbeaten Pats in the actual Super Bowl.

I never lived down that gaffe.

Ron was a trash talker and usually backed up his mouth. But even if he did not, he enjoyed how much it annoyed the person on the receiving end of his verbal barbs.

In adulthood, he was a key member of the Rockland landscape, with his involvement in business organizations, Rotary Club and was, for decades, instrumental in organizing and helping direct the Maine Lobster Festival (he even got on stage to sing with The Temptations and became friends with the Dixie Chicks, among the other acts who made stops in the Lobster Capital of the World).

He loved to ride his beautiful white Harley-Davidson. He loved to play cornhole and bocce ball with friends and family. He loved a good beer, especially Guinness. He loved, over the years, his many cruises to the Caribbean Islands — his homes away from home.

Ron and I ate hundreds of "business" lunches together at Bricks, Pizza Hut, Bonanza and the Mai Tai, a Chinese restaurant in downtown Rockland. We discussed a lot of serious business during those lunches.

In our younger days, we spent many weekends camping, including hours on the water in a canoe fishing for bass. It was a quiet time to contemplate and recharge, to reconnect with each other and nature — a place we had both loved since childhood.

For our 50th birthdays, we climbed Mount Washington with friends Mark and Lauren Lewis. I even took Ron to a Paul McCartney concert that same summer. Funny thing happened. Ron loved the Beatles and his favorite was John Lennon. He always felt Lennon was the most talented Beatle. Then, after seeing McCartney in concert, he had newfound respect and admiration for the second of the dynamic duo.

That was a special day at the old ballpark, a chance to see a legend and to continue a legendary friendship.

Now back to the sailor suit, where it all began. Ron and I first met when we were 4 years old at Irma's Nursery School on lower Rankin Street. My mother had bought me a sailor suit to wear for our class photo. Well, little Ronnie Belyea was so smitten by the suit, he threw a temper tantrum because he was so jealous of my flashy, classy attire.

For the next five-plus decades we talked about that little blue suit and how he so much wanted one for his school photo, but, alas, his wishes were not granted, until on a boat in Rockland Harbor to celebrate his 50th birthday, he finally got his own adult-sized version of the famous sailor suit (he even let me borrow it one time for Halloween).

He was happy. His ship — and that suit — had finally sailed in.

And my lifelong friendship — kinship, if you will — with Ronald James Belyea Jr. had come full circle.

A couple of days before his death, Ron texted me a birthday wish on June 12. "Another trip around the Sun! FINS UP! Happy Birthday Bro!"

For the next few days we communicated back and forth about life. He seemed happy and was so proud to share news (a perfect score on her FSTs) and photos about his beloved youngest daughter, Lilli.

"I am happy and living my Jimmy Buffett song," he wrote.

Those final texts remain on my phone and each time I turn on my device, his name and final words stare me in the face. I smile and tear up and wonder why.

But then I think of how special our lifelong friendship was and how so few get the opportunity to experience that. We did.

Then I open our texts and read the words he wrote:

"60! Whoever would have thought? We have had good lives my man. A few bumps but it is all part of it."

Then, in perhaps a prophetic statement, with the song lyrics to Jimmy Buffett's "He went to Paris," included, for good measure, of course, he wrote:

"Some of it's magic, some of it's tragic, but we have had a good lives along the way ..."

Yes we have, Ron Belyea. Thank you for being part of my journey. Rockland's and Florida's true "Son of a Son of a Sailor." Fins up and good-bye, my dear friend.

Ken Waltz, age 4, at Irma's School, photo day, wearing his sailor suit.
Ron Belyea. (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
Ron Belyea, (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
Ron Belyea. (Photo by: Belyea family)
Ron Belyea, high school graduation. (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
Ron Belyea on his Harley-Davidson. (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
At a Jimmy Buffett concert with, from left, Jason Witham, Ken Waltz, Brad Anderson, "Captain Jack Sparrow" and Ron Belyea. (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
From left, Ken Waltz, Ron Belyea and Mark Lewis. (Courtesy of: Mark Lewis)
After climbing Mount Washington to celebrate their 50th birthdays, Ron Belyea, left, Mark Lewis, middle, and Ken Waltz, right. Also pictured are Ave Belyea, Lauren Lewis and Sarah Waltz. (Courtesy of: Mark Lewis)
Ron Belyea, basketball official. (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
Ken Waltz, in Ron Belyea's sailor suit, and Darik Johnson, on Halloween. (Courtesy of: Belyea family)
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Comments (9)
Posted by: Linda Hillgrove | Jun 24, 2019 15:07

........what was, KEN, will still ALWAYS be____believe its an EXTENDED journey that will NEVER end------

Posted by: Debra Damon | Jun 24, 2019 14:35

Thank you Ken for telling this story about Ron. Ron is a friend none of us in the RDHS class of 1977 will ever forget.  Thank you again for writing this about Ron. I had last talked with him on Facebook. RIP Ron you will always be missed. A smile will always be on my face when I think of you my friend.

Posted by: Keryn Laite | Jun 24, 2019 12:30

Such a great person. Always a smile and a laugh for anyone. RIP

Posted by: Trina Johnson | Jun 24, 2019 10:01

Thank you for sharing the wonderful memories of Ron. I am so thankful I was a part of some of them.

Posted by: RSU #13 CENTRAL OFFICE | Jun 23, 2019 11:37

Wonderful, heartfelt tribute to a man who made so many of us smile and laugh. I've always considered you and Ron brothers in heart and soul. Your words will be a great blessing to everyone in his family and all of us who have been able to count Ron as a friend. You're right on about his putting...he never turned down the offer of a "gimme!" Peace.

Michael McGuire

Posted by: Cynthia Mary Anderson | Jun 23, 2019 10:04

Thank you for sharing such wonderful memories with us, Ken.  Such a lovely, well-deserved tribute.  May he rest in peace.  So sorry for you and his family for this tragic loss.  May you find peace along this journey of grief.  May you find hope and strength knowing he is in a better place.  God bless you all.


Posted by: Christine M Starrett | Jun 23, 2019 08:14

What a nice tribute to a great friend and friendship. I read this with a smile and sad feeling as I knew Ron also, mostly during his salesman days for the courier. He would come in my salon always with a smile and a “great opportunity for me” I remember you Ken as I was one of your sisters good friends. I continued reading this with a smile as it brought memories to my mind of a friendship with my best friend that I met when we were six. Thinking gosh, just said the same thing to my friend yesterday during a three hour phone conversation, “yes woman can do that” we both said can you believe we will be sixty in two years! So I must say because I understand the feelings your gong through, sorry for your loss of a life time friend my thoughts are with you and his family. I hope everyone has a friend that they can think of as they read this. I know it warmed my heart and makes me want to call Laurie again today and talk for another three hours remembering the times, the fun and arguing about who remembers what correctly!

Posted by: Darene Belyea | Jun 23, 2019 06:42

Ken, thanks for the beautiful article. Ron was truly one of a kind.

Posted by: Darene Belyea | Jun 23, 2019 06:41

Ken, thanks for the beautiful article. Ron was truly one of a kind.

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